What are our options in Libya?

The situation in Libya is currently spiralling out of control. At the moment it seems to be on the brink between uprising and full on civil war. This leaves the west, and in particular the United States, in a quandary as to what to do next. Here, I outline some of the options available to us and how realistic they are:

1) Full military intervention

Almost impossible for several reasons:

  • The UN Security Council would be unlikely to approve it, which would mean that the USA would have to go in on its own or as part of the coalition.
  • It’s doubtful if the USA and NATO have the military resources to do it as their forces are stretched quite thin at the moment.
  • After Iraq and Afghanistan the US definitely doesn’t want to get involved in another ground war in the Middle-East.
  • The US would face accusations from several quarters that this was neo-imperialism, and that they were there simply because of Libya’s oil.
  • It would be great recruiting material for Al-Qaeda and might bolster support for Gaddafi’s regime.

2) Creating a no fly zone

Again this is difficult, as it is questionable whether the US would get backing from the UN.  Even if they did get the support to do it, it’s actually quite difficult to create a no fly zone. As Secretary Gates reminded reporters this week, it would involve bombing Libya which raises some of the issues mentioned above. I don’t think the US is ready or willing to commit to a full-out military assault on Gaddafi.

3) Supporting the rebellion

The US and it’s allies could support the rebels with information, weapons and training to help them overthrow Gaddafi. The advantage of this plan is that it’s worked before in other countries and doesn’t involve the loss of American lives. The problem with it is, in Afghanistan we ended up helping to create our future enemies, the Taliban.

4) Economic Sanctions

We’re already engaged in economic sanction but as demonstrated in Iraq and elsewhere, often these harm the people more than the dictator.

5) Do nothing

There are three potential consequences to this:

  • Gaddafi wins and there are brutal reprisals against those who rebelled against him. This would cause several problems for the West. Apart from the obvious ethical issues and humanitarian crisis, it would be difficult to go back to business as usual under these circumstances.
  • Gaddafi loses and the rebels take control. This might lead to democracy and then again it might not. At this point no one really knows.
  • Stalemate and a long drawn out civil war. This could be the worst of all worlds as the confusion this would bring could create a breeding ground for Al-Qaeda and the potential radicalization of the population.

6) Hand wringing from the sidelines

What we’re currently doing and what we’ll probably continue to do. Apart from hoping that the rebels manage to overthrow Gaddafi all of the other options are problematic for the reasons discussed above.

All in all then the situation looks pretty grim. The only thing that will change this is clear and unequivocal evidence of massive and prolonged war crimes. The question now is, how far is Gaddafi willing to go to win the war, and are we prepared to intervene if the humanitarian situation does hit crisis point?

About matthewashton

I'm a Politics Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. I specialise in the fields of American, British and media politics.
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4 Responses to What are our options in Libya?

  1. roopost says:


    Another fine article. I agree that ‘do nothing’ is likely. My comments in detail are here:

    Armchair: Stay out of Libya

    Kind regards,

    • I agree with you that the trouble with writing this sort of thing is that the situation is constantly in flux. Several times over the past few months I’ve written something in the morning to post in the evening, only to find that the situation has completly changed rendering what I’ve written useless.

      The US and UK seems to be looking more seriously now at the idea of air strikes, but I do wonder if they can convince the UN Security Council. If not we might be faced with another coalition of the willing.

  2. The problem is – when you ‘do nothing’ pressure builds up on our economy, specially when the oil output from Libya is reduced by 90% – which means UK and European economies will suffer massively – this can be resisted for a short period before some sort of intervention is required.

    The debate here is whether this ‘intervention’ needs to be an obvious one (all out war on the leader to remove him) or a covert one, disguised with the rebellion by people of Libya. My bet would be that at first a covert operation will be launched to try remove the leader (there was reports that SAS were returned to UK after being captured by the rebels) and if this all fails then no other option will remain but to declare war on the current ruler.

    • The situation is now moving to quickly I’m finding it hard to keep up lol. Hopefully it will resolve itself soon in a peaceful manner but I suspect we all know that it isn’t likely. It’ll be interesting to see how Obama responds and how this differs from Bush, McCain and the other hawks who are calling for airstrikes and intervention.

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